A badger will now tattle on websites that ignore the “Do Not Track” feature built into web browsers.
OK, so this badger isn’t actually a real animal, but rather the namesake behind the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s new Privacy Badger browser plug-in, which launched last night.
The background: Major web browser makers have been working with advertisers on a feature that gives people the option to tell the sites they visit not to track their activity. This option, called Do Not Track, has been in development for several years, but is not yet supported by every website.
Part of the problem is that it relies on the honor system: With no legislative force behind it, websites can ignore the Do Not Track setting and grab your data regardless, without you even knowing. For example, Yahoo agreed to abide by the Do Not Track feature but recently decided to start tracking everyone again.
That’s what Privacy Badger is for: to make a big deal when a website collects your data even though you have the “Do Not Track” setting turned on. Privacy Badger will block content (mostly advertising) from any site that ignores these settings, but won’t disable all advertising from websites.
Here’s the official explanation from the EFF:
When you visit websites, your copy of Privacy Badger keeps note of the “third-party” domains that embed images, scripts and advertising in the pages you visit.
If a third-party server appears to be tracking you without permission, by using uniquely identifying cookies to collect a record of the pages you visit across multiple sites, Privacy Badger will automatically disallow content from that third-party tracker. In some cases a third-party domain provides some important aspect of a page’s functionality, such as embedded maps, images, or fonts. In those cases, Privacy Badger will allow connections to the third party but will screen out its tracking cookies.
Identifying how a website tracks and collects your data isn’t something new. The browser plugins NoScript and Ghostery can identify what’s running in the background when you visit a site, and even give you some degree of security by blocking those sites from doing it.
Yet EFF’s Privacy Badger might have the right idea by focusing on transparency more than action. Because if you know a website is ignoring your Do Not Track setting, it might influence how you use the web in the future.